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Art market back with a vengeance

“Wealthy people don't want to put their money into property or the sharemarket or finance companies. They're seeing art as a very strong asset class.”  – Auckland gallery director Gary Langsford 

Georgina Bond
Thu, 22 Nov 2012

Sotheby’s New York surpassed all contemporary art auction records when last week's auction fetched $US375.1 million.

Sale of a 1954 Mark Rothko abstract, No 1 (Royal Red and Blue) for $US75 million helped drive the total over the $US362 million the auction house took in from a similar evening sale in May 2008, which marked the peak of the last market cycle.

Watch the Sotheby’s auction in the video below and see how principal auctioneer Tobias Meyer charms the York Avenue sales room: “I have all the time in the world,” he says.

But the auction house only held on to record-setting sale result for 24 hours before rival Christie’s evening sale of post-war and contemporary art topped it with total sales of $US412.2 million.

Notable works in Christie's sale included Andy Warhol’s Statue of Liberty (1962), which went for more than $US43 million and new price records were set for Jeff Koons and Franz Kline. See the complete Christie’s results here.

It is hoped the record-setting sales will boost investor confidence in the New Zealand art market.

Founding director of Auckland’s Gow Langsford gallery Gary Langsford says the results were extraordinary for an art market that was technically still in recession.

“There are records set for all types of artist every time there is a round of auctions in New York, but these auctions really stand out. They are astronomical figures,” Mr Langsford says.

“I was speaking to a consultant in New York who said in the past there was only a handful of people in the auction rooms bidding up to $US30 million or $US40 million, but now there are dozens. So that’s the difference.

“What’s happening internationally is wealthy people don’t want to put their money into property or the sharemarket or finance companies. They’re seeing art as a very strong asset class,” Mr Langsford says.

Although a direct comparison with New York cannot be drawn, Mr Langsford says the top end of the New Zealand market has also come back strongly in the last year.

Record-breaking NZ auction

He points to Art + Object’s record-breaking auction of the Les and Milly Paris Collection in September, which with a sale total of more than $4.5 million – the highest-grossing auction of all time with a number of artist records set – as an example.

Gow Langsford has made a number of sales in the $200,000 to $1.5 million bracket over the last year.

“It has been a very good year. I can’t say that about the previous three years. But this year’s been a lot better and it’s been based around the surge at the top end of the market we’re seeing here now,” Mr Langsford says.

“It’s back with a vengeance. Much stronger.

“People have still got money and they’re looking at the other places they could put it and art’s very attractive – particularly blue-chip pieces. I hate to use that phrase, but well-recognised artists with a good standing are a pretty safe place to put your money.”

The art market is a difficult one to pick, but Mr Langsford expects the strength at the top end to continue into the New Year.

“We never know what’s coming in for sale. If I get the right painting it can make a huge difference to turnover.

“But I would say that we’re expecting to be on a similar track for the next 12 months.”

Ralph Hotere works

This week, a valuable collection of 11 Ralph Hotere works, which belonged to former National Business Review publisher Barry Colman, fetched $250,000 at auction.

The  flagship piece, Vive Aramoana (pictured), sold for $183,000, beyond the estimated $140,000 to $160,000 price range, at the International Art Centre in Parnell.

The collection of 13 paintings and lithographs were understood to be the largest private Hotere collection.

International Art Centre director Richard Thompson says the full collection was sold, with spirited bidding for each painting.

Prices for Hotere works have been steady for a few years but last night’s auction had reinvigorated interest in his works, he says.

The International Art Centre’s sale of 140 works fetched total sales of more than $1 million.

An oil on canvas by Charles Frederick Goldie, Relics of a Bygone Age, Mere Werohia, 1933, sold for $284,000 – above its predicted sale price.

And an oil on canvas by Vera Cummings Patara Te Tuhi also fetched a record price of $20,000 – well beyond the predicted $8000 to $12,000. The previous record price for a Cummings painting was $18,500 at a sale at the International Art Centre earlier this year.

Sotheby’s principal auctioneer Tobias Meyer charms at the New York auction.

Georgina Bond
Thu, 22 Nov 2012
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Art market back with a vengeance